[From my column Obviously Opaque in the UTS Voice, 16-31st August]
No, this cannot happen in JNU, as the Jawaharlal Nehru University is popularly known. An assault and a suicide, this is simply impossible was the first thought that had hit me. And then, my mind had gone blank. I was staring at the screen of the blessed phone on which I had opened the app of a reputed news channel, as I often do while going to the office. The news had shaken me to the core. It had sent shivers down my spine some 3000 miles and two oceans away from where it had taken place.
But then, this has really happened; that too in a classroom I had visited a hundred times, at least, for everything from election campaigns to political meetings. The images of that classroom had started haunting me. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can justify the attack. It came as a proof that even we, proud torch bearers of a glorious legacy of resistance have started faltering at least if we have not outrightly failed ourselves.
Have we, the JNU, not been the name of that hope that twinkles in eyes fighting injustices across the country? Haven't we been the place which stood by one and all? Yes we have. We have painstakingly built a model of resistance that works. We were known for being the safest place for women in the country despite being located in the heart of Delhi, the rape capital of India. We have built a real, working alternative in the face of those parroting ‘There is No Alternative’ (TINA) mantra of the neoliberal world order.
JNU has always been the thorn in many fleshes. Right from those out to sell the country to those in the mad rush for turning the country into a Hindu Rashtra, it pricks in the eyes of all those who are against the idea of equality and justice. It is not for nothing that Pravin Togadias have been demanding the closure of the JNU they term as a Madarsa. It is not for nothing that the JNU had become one of the nerve centers of the protests against emergency imposed on India.
What has gone wrong, then, in JNU? What is it that is giving birth to such despicable acts in a campus known for standing by equality, peace and justice or the idea of India abandoned by those oath bound to protect it? There is another question, though. Why is mainstream media using the two incidents to assassinate the character of the campus? Why are they in a mad rush to declare JNU as a University of Crime? JNU is not the first university, after all, to have witnessed such incidents of crime on the campus? Neither does it compare with many other universities which dwarf many of the known badlands of India. JNU would not rank even in top 100, for instance, if one makes a list of universities ranked by sex crimes. Does anyone remember Delhi University ever being referred to as a sex crime university despite being miles ahead of JNU in misogyny?
Though JNU must not merely be feeling ashamed for the fact that one has to make such a comparison, it must also have realised its failure. It has not been known for merely being a torchbearer of glorious legacy of the peoples’ resistance, after all, it has built a thousand of them. This is what explains the unholy alliance, the mahajot, that has assembled itself into an almost impossible alliance to attack JNU. You would see political rivals sharing space with news websites publishing porn in the name of news for a few hits. You would see newspapers running outright misogynist stories with titles like ‘the girlfriend had even had sex’ and blaming her for inviting the attack on herself. Ask them if their reporter was hiding under the bed or what, and they would meekly telling you that they translated ‘there was a lot between us’ of the suicide note into ‘the girlfriend had had sex. As if alone, add to this, as the story did never mention the ‘boyfriend’ once.
Though asking where do they get the courage of running such insensitive, baseless, false and irrelevant to the crime stories from in these time of immoral web media, yet they make two things absolutely clear. First, that a few media groups are ready to fall to unfathomable lows for TRP and hits and second, that there is an urgent need for a regulatory body to look into such lowly act. Why should there not be something like a censor board, for example, to monitor websites that distribute pornography, a cognizable offence under Indian Penal Code, in the name of news?
Having said that, JNU too has to answer a lot of questions in the light of these attacks. It cannot run away with the excuse of its glorious past. To put it in the words of a journalist friend Arvind Shesh, JNU must answer why is the values (or the lack of them) of outside society are spreading in JNU while it was JNU that must had spread in the society.
There comes another question. Think and you would realise that unlike most of other universities where crime was organically linked to the ‘politics’, in JNU crime has started seeping in since elections were banned. Interestingly, even that ban defied logic as it came after the recommendation of a Lyngoh Committee that had found JNU election process to be ideal! Why had that committee found JNU election process to be an ideal one?
Simply because JNU politics has always been a politics of engagement where there was no difference between students and student leaders. It was a politics that had affected even the right wingers, forget the Left groups that have painstakingly built this culture. This is why that in JNU even groups like Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad organised late night public meetings nstead of issuing a fatwa on dress code. This is why political battles in JNU were fought more over dinner time pamphlets than anything else. This process of engagement was the one that first startled the students coming from bastions of patriarchy with girl students leading protest demonstrations and then slowly made them a part of the groups.
Conversations were never a one way road in JNU. They engaged students, teachers and the workers alike. They led diehard political rivals into lifelong friendships. These were the friendships that weathered all storms. This is not for nothing, again, that the number of such impossible seeming friendships in JNU can easily surpass, perhaps, the same ones in all of the country taken together.
The ban on elections had affected this engagement the worst. It has created a gap between student leaders busy with the Supreme Court case and students. It had, in fact, created a difference between the student leaders and ‘ordinary students’ for the first time. Needless is to say that this was the distance that blinded JNU to the two of its students, even if out of thousands, turning into criminals. This was a blunder. Such a blunder for the bastion of resistance called JNU that could only be unconditionally apologised, not explained.
JNU got to answer where has it failed. The ban, ultimately, was merely on elections. The politics was still intact as elections are but a very small part of politics. Despite having fought, and won, countless valiant battles, JNU leadership has lost a front, a very important one nonetheless. Of course, the responsibility for this failure does not lay with the leadership alone as the decline has been set in by things beyond their control. The blame partly lies with the neoliberal economic policies that have shrunk the public space of interactions to a considerable extent and have imprisoned many students to their rooms and computers. But then, can JNU take an escape route opened by this argument? No, JNU cannot. Neither can it run away by blaming it all on current leadership.
We are all responsible for this. We, who could not see it coming in our times. We, who could not plug the gaps and forced such a huge responsibility on already embattled JNU leadership. We should all be ashamed for the failure. We are all the culprits of two of our young friends who have paid the price for our failure. We have to apologise to them and the only apology possible is ensuring that this would never ever happen again.
We know that JNU will do it. JNU will have to. Not only for the fact that this is about us and our JNU. It will have to do this because the shameless forces trying to assassinate our character in the garb of these attacks know that JNU is the most pro-people opposition of the country and they won’t succeed in their nefarious designs until they demolish it. This is exactly why we too cannot lose this most important front.